The Business Case for Mentoring

While the term “mentoring” is often used, establishment of meaningful mentoring relationships and programs is a true art form that when effectively implemented, yields significant gains for both the mentoring pair and the firm/company investing in such resources. The following highlights mentoring subtleties that make a critical difference in the success of the relationship, including: how mentorship differs from coaching and sponsorship, formal and organic relationships, reverse mentoring, optimal mentor pairings, effective communication, the benefits of mentoring, and useful mentoring resources.

            I.Types of Mentoring Relationships

“Mentoring” is broader than often described and takes many forms beyond traditional, formal, one-on-one pairings.1 The following is an overview of those relationships, including the differences between coaching, mentoring and sponsorship; formal versus informal pairings; and reverse, or millennial or reciprocal, mentorships.

A. How Mentoring Differs from Other Professional Relationships

Coach. Mentor. Sponsor. Each plays a vital, yet different, role in the development of a professional. Eloquently explained, “[A] coach talks to you, a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you2.”

Further examining the importance of each relationship, a business coach, like a sports coach, assists with learning a new skill, overcoming a challenge, or improving performance3. The pairing is often short-term, focusing on perfection of a specific task that once achieved ends the partnership4.

Generally longer-term and more broadly-focused, a mentor enhances a “mentee’s professional performance and development5.” Through this relationship, advice, guidance and support boost confidence, allowing the mentee to improve performance, navigate corporate politics, and enjoy increased competence and self- worth6.

Transcending a mentor, a sponsor uses personal power and reputation to advocate for another’s advancement achieved, at least in part, as a result of the sponsor’s influence7. Usually a leader with the ability to control the behavior of others, a sponsor generally differs from a mentor in the following ways:

Given the inspiration mentoring infuses into a career that can blossom into a sponsorship9, the often unexplained nuances of the art of mentoring are next explored. 

B. Formal v. Organic Mentoring Relationships & the Role of Differing Personality Types

When envisioning mentoring, a formal program facilitated by a business or organization often comes to mind. Such programs are usually structured, founded to accomplish a specific business objective, and measured to determine if such goal is met.

Pairs are often strategically matched to meet the business objective and last for a designated length of time, generally nine to twelve months10.

Informal mentoring relationships, on the other hand, are usually based on chemistry between the mentor and mentee and arise naturally when the two meet, recognize their commonalities, and agree to enter into a mentorship together. While, as discussed below, the pair can establish the criteria of their relationship to maximize its effectiveness, such matches often have unspecified goals and unknown outcomes11. They also often last longer, sometimes evolving into a friendship12. The two types of mentoring relationships are well summarized in the following chart13.

Many report heightened enjoyment from informal mentorships due to the genuine human connection between the mentor and mentee14. To wit, the benefits received by protégés in formal programs typically fall short of the benefits bestowed upon mentees, “involved in naturally occurring, informal mentoring relationships” as a result of the social attraction that “may be absent in formally assigned mentoring pairings15.” Formal programs excel, though, in creating meaningful mentoring opportunities for introverted individuals who are less likely to attempt to initiate a mentoring relationship than their socially-skilled peers16. Such programs are thus important for noticing and appropriately preparing high potential introverts for advanced leadership positions17.

As shown, wonderful benefits are associated with both formal and informal mentoring. Organizational  leadership thus must facilitate the mentorships best suited for the business while taking into account the personality types of its key talent to be developed.

C. Reverse Mentoring, or Millennial or Reciprocal Mentorships

Equally as powerful as a traditional mentoring pair where a more seasoned executive mentors a younger professional is a match through which a younger colleague mentors an older peer, often referred to as reverse, millennial or reciprocal mentoring. Millennial mentors are often particularly adept at teaching their senior counterparts about technology, the Web, computers, social media, and current business trends, including catering to new markets, development of fresh products and services, and organizational and social change18.

First popularized more than a decade ago by GE Chairman Jack Welsh, reverse mentoring benefits include: closure of the knowledge gap for both parties, such as business terminology and best industry practices for the younger employee and online marketing for the senior counter-part; empowerment and development of both emerging and established leaders; and a cohesive cross-generation workforce19. Given technology’s revolution of the workplace, millennials provide a fresh perspective critical to the success of the organization20. Simply, when the boss is willing to learn new techniques from the organization’s freshest members, office relationships are improved and strengthened.

II. Optimal Mentorship Pairing: Find the Spark! & Focus on Goals

Organizations facilitating formal mentoring programs frequently attempt to match mentees with mentors with any number of identical traits, including gender, ethnicity, profession, marital and familial status, interpersonal skills, and leadership styles. Many times, however, such matches fail, as too many criteria complicate pairing and oftentimes, create categorically-ideal matches that lack a human connection21. The best practice is thus to make achievement of the mentee’s goals22, the point of the relationship, the focus of the pairing, while also considering if a “spark” exists between the mentee and mentor23.

Indeed, a good mentor is a trusted advisor who provides sound advice24. Such person may be older or younger, and in the mentee’s chosen profession or not. This is especially true for beginner and intermediate-level mentees. Although their inquiries are uniquely phrased, distilled, they constitute a core set of questions that can be answered by a myriad of professionals, in their field or not, such as guidance on interview preparation, salary negotiation, business development, networking, work-life balance, avoidance of professional mistakes, and career best practices25. Answering such questions requires general business knowledge from a successful, productive professional, not an overly complicated matching process.

Moreover, a mentor with traits different from the mentee’s may broaden the mentee’s depth through alternative perspectives and skillsets, best helping the mentee grow and advance26. For example, a mentor of the opposite gender may most effectively foster the development of the mentee’s weaknesses in a way that a mentor of the same sex cannot. Based on the forgoing, the most successful mentoring programs will consider replacing lengthy mentor applications with recruitment of knowledgeable, compassionate, enthusiastic mentors, who take mentoring seriously, are committed to lifelong-learning and invest in the gratification and success of the mentee, and have the talent and expertise to best cultivate and nurture the mentee27.

III. Effective Mentoring Communications: The Critical First Meeting

It is commonplace at the end of a formal mentoring program to hear that although the pair was initially excited to work together, they failed to meaningfully connect during their relationship. Such failure is often the result of an ineffective initial meeting28.

To facilitate a successful mentoring relationship, at the outset, the mentor and mentee must be prepared to agree upon their roadmap. Discussion topics may include: who will initiate conversation – the mentor or the mentee; preferred method(s) of communication – in-person, email, phone conference, Skype/GoToMeeting/etc., or social media; expected response period – within 24 hours, the week, etc.; whether your communications are confidential; frequency of interaction – weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.; length of the relationship if not established, and if it is, whether such relationship may be extended; critical dates – for example, known periods of unavailability or a key project deadline for which guidance is sought; discussion topics; taboo inquiries, such as regarding personal life; anticipated connections; contemplated activities; desired programs and events to attend; and ideal goal achievement. Consider using the following prompts29 during the initial strategy session:

As intimated by the forgoing chart, initially, a mentorship is not a contemplated friendship or job opportunity30. To keep the relationship focused on the mentor’s guidance, the mentor may ask the mentee to provide proposed meeting agendas31. In addition to setting the meeting tone, the pre-meeting agenda review affords the mentor time to plan the offered advice. Similarly, an organization facilitating a formal mentoring program may periodically provide its pairings with suggested conversation questions to foster regular communication and ensure the discussion of desired topics32

Above all, honesty of both the mentor33 and the mentee34 is crucial to a successful mentoring relationship. As a mentor, the provision of straightforward, candid advice is most beneficial to the mentee. Part of the first meeting may thus include preparing the mentee to hear what is needed, not what is wanted, during the relationship.

Additionally, if upon understanding the mentee’s mentorship goals the mentor cannot provide the desired guidance, the mentor should inform the mentee of the mismatched skillsets and connect the mentee with a better- aligned mentor, if possible. Similarly, to grow, the mentee must solicit and accept critical feedback and inform the mentor of the true mentorship objectives. Regarding the latter, for example, a mentor cannot best assist a mentee with obtaining a job in another city if the mentor believes the mentee wants to advance at the mentee’s current company.

In sum, meaningful mentoring relationships are not accidental. Rather, establishment of a vibrant mentorship requires education of the mentor and mentee regarding their respective roles35 and a strong commitment to a mutually agreeable plan of action36.

IV. The Power of Mentoring & Benefits to the Business

The reported benefits of business mentoring are impressive and include increased productivity, diversity, morale and retention, personal growth, access to organizational resources and rewards, improved technical skills, increased cross-generation collaboration, and a heightened awareness of company culture, policies and expectations, all of which positively increase the bottom line37.

More specifically:
  • The productivity of managers who are mentored increases by 88%;
  • 35% of employees without regular mentoring seek another job within twelve months;
  • 95% of mentoring participants say that mentorship motivates them to do their very best; and
  • Mentored workers annually earn $5k-$22k more than their non-mentored counterparts38.
Indeed, “[m]entoring has long been recognized as a tool in career development,” with evidence that “mentored individuals often earn higher performance evaluations, higher salaries, and faster career progress than non-mentored individuals,” creating higher job satisfaction and commitment39.

This is particularly true for women, minorities and seniors, who experience increased self-confidence, improved communication skills, and truer self- assessments as a result of mentorships40.

Programs targeting such employees have the ability to transform a company’s culture, creating diverse management teams more reflective of workforces and markets41. Such transformation of a company’s leadership composition is often critical to its bottom line, as clients and vendors are demanding a diverse labor force42. It is thus no longer simply politically correct and morally right to provide mentorship to women, minorities and seniors; rather, it is oftentimes a necessity for a company to remain financially viable43.

Given the forgoing significant mentorship benefits, the question should shift from whether to host a mentoring program to how soon to establish one to best nurture your business and its employees.

V. Mentoring Program Resources

Many resources exist to assist with the establishment or improvement of a mentoring program. For example, organizations devoted to the practice of mentoring such as the National Mentoring Resource Center44 and the National Mentoring Partnership45 offer a plethora of resources including guides, handouts, training resources, management resources, program policies and procedures, and recruitment and marketing tools. Likewise, research is readily available regarding top corporate mentoring programs proven successful within companies such as Sodexo, Time Warner Cable and Caterpillar46. The critical questions asked by such companies when forming and evaluating their mentoring programs are also on the Web47. With the accessibility of such vibrant materials, a company need not reinvent the wheel, and instead, can enjoy the synergies from the tried and true mentorships that already exist that can serve as the foundation for a new, or improved, mentoring program.

VI. Summary: Effective Mentoring Requires Planning, Education & Facilitation

As shown above, successful mentoring relationships are not accidental. The most effective pairings are intentionally established partnerships, executed through an agreed upon and thought out plan, by mentors and mentees aware of and educated regarding their respective roles, committed to regular communication and interaction. Thus, to establish or improve your program or pairing, thoughtfully create, implement and execute the roadmap that optimizes mentorship functionality, results and enjoyment.

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  3. Scotter, L. Coach vs. Mentor vs. Sponsor [Web log post]. Retrieved February 15, 2018, from 14676.html.
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  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. Tiao, S. (2016, April 22). Sponsorship vs. Mentoring: Why Not Both? [Web log post]. Retrieved February 15, 2018, from versus-mentoring-why-not-both.
  10. Management Mentors. (2012, Oct. 25). Business Mentoring Matters [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from mattersblog/bid/90851/what-is-the-difference-between- informal-and-formal-mentoring.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Caddick, P. Building Effective Mentoring Partnerships: How to be a Successful Mentee [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from
  14. Tanner, N. (2015, Aug. 18). A Tale of Two Mentors: How Informal Mentoring Can Change Your Career [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from howinformal-mentoring-can-change-your-nathan-tanner.
  15. 15 Turban, D., et al. (2007, June 19). The Role of Personality in Mentoring Relationships [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from n/turban_lee_2007_mentor_personality_chapter. pdf.
  16. Id.
  17. Richardson, M. (2017, Sept. 29). How Mentoring Can Help Introverts Become Great Leaders [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from mentoringfor-high-potential-introverts/.
  18. Techopedia. Reverse Mentoring [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from mentoring.
  19. Quast, L. (2011, Jan. 3). Reverse Mentoring: What It Is and Why It Is Beneficial [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from ork-inprogress/2011/01/03/reverse-mentoring-what-is-it- and-why-is-it-beneficial/amp/.
  20. Roose, K. (2017, Oct. 15). Executive Mentors Wanted. Only Millennials Need Apply [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from al-mentorsexecutives.html.
  21. Insala. 5 Best Practices for Successful Matching and Pairing in a Mentoring [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from matching-and-pairing-inmentoring.pdf.
  22. UNSW Sydney Human Resources. Sample Mentee/Mentor Matching Process Template [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from
  23. Demystifying Matching National Mentoring Summit. (2014). The Keys to Creating Successful MentorMentee Matches [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from 20Matching.pdf.
  24. Byington, T. (2010 Dec.). Keys to Successful Mentoring Relationships [Web log post]. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from
  25. Gervais, B. (2014, Feb. 28). 10 Killer Questions to Make the Most of Your Mentor Meeting [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from killerquestions-to-make-the-most-of-your-mentor- meeting/#3e1f67b41481.
  26. Moran, G. (2014, Dec. 15). Should Women Seek Male Mentors? [Web log post]. Retrieved March 8, 2018, 2018, from should-seek-male-mentors.
  27. Loretto, P. (2017, October 21). 8 Qualities of a Good Mentor [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from good-mentor-1986663. See also OHSU School of Medicine. Communication Best Practices for Mentoring [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from of-medicine/faculty/mentoring/mentoring- bestpractices/communication/index.cfm.
  28. Reid, P. (2017, July 31). Come to the Table, Ready: How to Approach Your First Mentor Meeting [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from auleannareid/2017/07/31/come-to-the-tableready-how-to- approach-your-first-mentor-meeting/amp/.
  29. Caddick, P. Building Effective Mentoring Partnerships: Your First Mentoring Meeting [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from
  30. Shandrow, K. (2014, June 9). 10 Questions to Consider When Working with a Business Mentor [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from
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  32. Trees, L. (2017, Apr. 27). 5 Tips for Successful Mentoring Program Implementation [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from mentoring-programimplementation.
  33. DeMers, L. (2014, Oct. 1). 7 Key Qualities of an Effective Mentor [Web log post]. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from qualities-of-an-effective-mentor.html.
  34. Lean In. 4 Things All Mentors and Mentees Should Know [Web log post]. Retrieved March 7, 2018, from
  35. American Association of Professional Farriers. Mentoring – Things to Think About [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from _things_to_think_ab.php.
  36. Hodges, D., et al. Mentoring Pathways – The Mentoring Relationship: You Have to Want It! [Web log post]. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from
  37. Diversity Best Practices. (2001, June). Mentoring: Benefits, Challenges, and New Approaches [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from es/_attachments_articles/rr mentoringjune2011.pdf.
  38. Rosado, R. (2015, Feb. 27). Organic Mentoring: Growing Mentoring Relationships Naturally [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from mentoringgrowing-mentoring-relationships-naturally/.
  39. American Psychological Association. Introduction to Mentoring: A Guide for Mentors and Mentees [Web log post]. Retrieved February 15, 2018, from
  40. Management Mentors, Inc. The Power of Mentoring to Support Diversity Initiatives [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from pdf/pdf/mentorings-role-in-maximizing-a-diversity.pdf?t=1474494265378.
  41. Diversity Best Practices. (2001, June). Mentoring: Benefits, Challenges, and New Approaches [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from es/_attachments_articles/rr-mentoringjune2011.pdf.
  42. Bass, B. What Are the Benefits of Diversity Mentoring? [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from mentoring-13121.html.
  43. Id.
  44. National Mentoring Resource Center. Resources for Mentoring Programs [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from hp/what-works-inmentoring/resources-for-mentoring- programs.html.
  45. National Mentoring Partnership. Generic Mentoring Program Policy and Procedure Manual [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from y.pdf.
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  47. Lindenberger, J. (2011, Mar. 11). Play 20 Questions to Develop a Successful Mentoring Program [Web log post]. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from develop-asuccessful-mentoring-program/.

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